Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Take a photo with your eyes - a ride into Kampala

 “Liar” - I tell myself, when I respond to the little girl walking bare feet at the traffic light, begging for money. “Sorry, I don’t have” with the gesture of my hands. I have - I think - it’s just behind in my rucksack, but I don’t want to open it, and it’s not going to fix her problems. Someone else will probably take the money from her, I don't want her to think people are good and to be trusted because they give money, I allow myself to think. Street children are sadly a normality in such a big city. As a humanitarian worker involved in child protection for years, but mostly as a human being, this may be shocking, especially after seeing the wealth held by a small elite in the very same city, and at the same time a lack of an adequate welfare system, leaving these children at a huge risk of abuse, diseases, malnutrition, discrimination whilst begging on the trafficked and polluted roads. I have discussed this with local friends who, unsurprisingly, all have a story to share that could be part of their personal background, or may know someone who had similar experiences. I researched that there are many international and grassroot NGOs working on this issue (and forming a consortium), but sadly they can’t reach everyone for lack of funding.

By the time I found a justification for not handing out the equivalent of a meal, my boda* hits the gas and we dive into a net of motorbikes giving way at the sound of a honk. The girl’s wide dark eyes are still staring at me, with her little hand spinning half round, a gesture that looks like something in between a “hello” and “give me”.

Few meters away and we pass by one of my favourite junctions overlooking Kampala: Makerere Hill, from where, at the end of a slope you can see the big Gaddafi National Mosque. Regardless of the weather, the air between this point of view and the mosque is always misty: of dust, smog or heated cars. Bodas, matatus**, and cars slalom the slope to get faster to the traffic light, honking their way out of the jam, a strategy needless of any precedence rules on the road. The goldish minaret shimmers above the dusty cloud, reflecting the sunshine. Every time I pass by this spot I hope the traffic would stop me for a few seconds to look at it. I regret not having brought my analog camera but of course, it would not be a good idea to take it out and shoot while moving. We hit the road again, avoiding a clash with another boda by a few centimeters. I tighten up my helmet, the emblem of being a Mzungu*** taking bodas. 

In Uganda it is possible to transport essentially anything by boda. Amongst the most bizarre things I’ve seen so far have been: 5 chickens at the back and 2 goats in the front; two pigs at the back; a boda on top of another boda; a wooden wardrobe, a pile of 10 chairs. But today I set a new standard of randomness: a pale lilac, golden handled adult size coffin, tied up at the back of the motorbike. Was it empty or full -  I asked myself. Was the man who carried the misfortunate casualty a relative? Was he sad or worried to perhaps cause an accident with a flying coffin? What surprises me in the most subtle way is this balance between, on the one hand, the sense of sacrality and devotion towards religion, the will of God, the world of the spirits and the hereafter, and on the other, the grotesque practical solutions to everyday issues - including death, its prevention, and how to handle it.

The sun is almost setting - very fast, being Uganda near the equatorial line. Beyond the wall beside the road, stands a, for what I can see, girls’ secondary school. A series of yellow school uniforms hang outside the windows of the building, exposing to the heat but also to the dust of the road. Some white t-shirt and underwear are hooked securely with pegs to a hanger, waiting for the last ray of sun to dry them for the following school day. It looks like it’s a boarding school. These, in Uganda, to the eyes of European students may seem like prisons. Wake up call is at 4:00 AM, followed by morning preps - a series of hours spent in the darkness of the class going through homework or preparing for the next lesson. Here, most students hide to sleep, or even masturbate (according to some students’ secret tales) facing hideous punishments. Breakfast is served only after morning preps, around 6.30 AM. The following schedule involves a sequence of lessons only broken by a quick lunch and dinner (rigorously posho**** and beans with no exceptions, all year long) and washing clothes for a total of 2 hours of break before going back to class until night. Students usually sleep 4 hours a night. Students are forbidden from leaving the school apart from holiday, and can receive visits once per term. When I asked the young man who lives with us, what he thinks are the benefits of boarding schools for youths and for the society at last, he replied that there, “you get to become the best of the class”. There is nothing else you need to focus on apart from studying. Your “performance” is at its highest. I wonder if it’s us, the Europeans, the westerners, to be lazy, or this is a whole different system here still embracing a post-Victorian (a legacy of colonial) view of social climbing based on early suffering and little sleep. I wonder how these girls, the owner of the yellow uniforms may feel this evening: are they tired? Are they proud of their achievements? Do they feel comfortable? Do they miss home? The yellow of the fabric moves with the breeze, and reflects what is left of the sunset’s light. 

What do these wonderful and peculiar scenes have in common to my eyes? The lack of a camera, the risk of taking my phone out to capture the moment (and very high chance to have it stolen by a passing boda), but mostly the fact that not everything can be seized into a frame, saved into a virtually infinite memory, covered with filters, forgotten for newer instagrammable moments. Why do we feel an untaken photo is like an incomplete drawing? Is the impression of a moment not sufficient to resonate an image into our memory?

Ambra Malandrin
Unfinished portrait - Ambra Malandrin

Moreover, photographing people has always been something I don’t feel too comfortable doing. Not only the concept of consent is widely conceived in different ways, and so the informed decision for which the subject chooses to be in the photo. But also because, I ask myself how I feel when strangers take photos of me out of curiosity, or perhaps beauty within their frame. I find it key to observe very deeply if the approach with which we take pictures at people is the same as that we engage when photographing a rare flower, a curious monkey, or a leaf on a tree, a landscape. People’s photography should always have at its very core the story of the subject. And this story should be speaking about dignity, reality, joy, pain, too, but never frame the subject as a passive consequence of the environment where they find themselves in. At least, this is one of the thoughts I matured to face my eagerness to snapshot everything that makes my eyes vibe.

Besides, when it’s not the human element I want to photograph, there are so many rules to take good photos that sometimes, I fear to miss the chance to just enjoy the moment. It would be too disappointing not to capture the beauty before my very own perception. 

The little girl’s eyes, the mosque at the end of the slope, the bodas carrying literally anything you can think of, the yellow uniforms hanging from the window. These are some of the photographs that will rest impressed in my visual memory, but not that of my camera. A pair of eyes can, sometimes, take the best photos. 


*Boda boda,  also called boda: means of local transport by [private motorbike’s riders. Very dangerous but fast.

**Matatus: private minibus, other means of local transport. They usually have 16 seats but they can carry up to 20 people.

***Mzungu: is a Bantu word that means "wanderer" originally pertaining to spirits. The term is currently used in to refer to white people.

****Posho:  is a type of stiff maize flour porridge made in Africa.

Sunday, 25 September 2022

All you need is a Community

It is time to say goodbye to Kikooba Infant & Primary School as my deployment arrived at its end! There were six months of understanding a different culture and way of work, exchanging knowledge, facing problems together, and trying to find a solution as a team to improve our school environment. 

September in Kikooba

Good School Workshop – Good Teacher

What is a Good Teacher? After a self-evaluation form, teachers could reflect on their role, and which improvements they have to make for interacting positively and creatively with the students. Through group discussions and sharing of thoughts, teachers write down the qualities and responsibilities and don´t of a good teacher. Thanks to the use of the microfinance supported by Mondo NGO through the EUAV program, I could provide school materials like glue, tape, manillas, crayons and colored felt pens and a fully equipped case with pens, pencil, sharpener, rubber, and marker for all the teachers.

Good School Workshop – Positive Discipline

Kikooba Infant & Primary School Teachers could have an overview of the most important international, African and Ugandan laws regarding children´s rights, tips on how to implement positive discipline, and the use of fair and non-violent response within the community. Teachers underlined how the need of creating a positive environment where students feel protected and respected, it is the priority to cease them to focus on self-protection and open themselves to personal growth.

Code of Conduct

The director, teachers, prefects representatives of all the students, and I worked together to create the code of conduct of Kikooba Infant & Primary School. It was a fruitful activity to communicate, to discuss problems, worries, and responsibilities of both sides. After writing down the rules for teachers and students, everyone agreed on them and underlined the responsibility to ensure that these guidelines are followed.


I couldn´t do anything alone without the community who welcomed me. These six months were challenging in many different ways but I was always supported by my mentors of Mondo and UPA and my fellows EUAV colleagues. I found a team of teachers always available and reactive to my requests and proposal, and who actively participated in all the workshops and training I implemented. I was surrounded by 300 students who every morning greeted me with a big smile. Finally, my Ugandan Mama treated me like a daughter, and the community appreciated all my efforts to bring some improvements to their environment. I found a second home in this little village. Mwebale nnyo!

Tuesday, 6 September 2022

Experiencing Uganda's polychromatic culture

I am traveling from Arua to Kampala. 498 km and 8 hours of bumpy road that connects the West areas of Uganda bordering Congo and South Sudan to Lake Victoria, crossing the Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda's largest national park with the world's most powerful waterfall (300 cubic meters of water per second). The landscape from the window of the minivan is incredible: antelopes, baboons, a few villages with children running and waving when they see us pass, women carrying baskets on their heads, and men chatting in the shade of a tree. Near Pakwach town, when there are still 5 hours of travel left, I see two elephants walking slowly along the road. I feel grateful that I am having this experience, I close my eyes, and by the time I wake up, I am already in the chaotic Kampala.

Elephants in Murchison Falls National Park

My name is Florinda, I am 26 years old and until November I will be living in the capital of the Pearl of Africa. In this monthly blog, I will tell you about the activities I do as a European Aid Volunteer with Mondo (my sending organization) and my adjustment process to some of the cultural differences I experience.

I arrived in Uganda in late July and with my arrival, the rainy season began. This year slightly early. When I arrived at the office of the hosting organization (Uganda Pioneers' Association), Sarah, the organization's accountant, looked at me smiling and exclaimed: "Welcome! You brought the rain!". It took me a while to realize it was a compliment. In Italy (my home country) when they tell you that "you brought the rain”, it is a way of saying that you should have rested at home. Whereas in Uganda when it rains people feel blessed.

The meeting with the hosting organization, like many other appointments in the following weeks, started a few hours late, which reminded me that time is not perceived in all countries in the same way. As well as in Senegal (where I lived for one year), in Uganda the time system is polychromatic. People are not overly concerned with deadlines and punctuality, they perform and start different tasks and activities at once and they do not have a schedule for completing them: each task and activity will be completed in its own time (Duranti & Di Prata, 2009). I come from a monochromatic culture. For me, time is linear and perfectly divided into intervals, based on specific tasks. If the appointment is at 9 o'clock, I will arrive at 8:45. People who have a polychromatic conception of time, on the other hand, will probably arrive later and the appointment will start at 11. This is just because they are not ruled by time schedules. Moreover, in polychrome cultures, relationships with other people are the most important thing (Duranti & Di Prata, 2009). I remember someone in Senegal telling me that once, the director of a local organization showed up to a business meeting four hours late, justifying that he had met a woman on the way who needed to talk. Adjusting to this different conception of time is not easy; you have to be patient. Now, after one year in the African continent, I know that if I will probably have to wait, I can simply start another task.

TASK Art Centre
where we had the DCT in Gulu

After the first weeks in Kampala, where I supported Mondo Team in readapting a Monitoring and Evaluation methodology for the Mondo Digital Competencies Training (DCT), I went to Gulu, in the Northern Region, to assist and support the Mondo Team in the implementation of the third and final session of the Digital Competences training. DCT is a program that Mondo has implemented in various countries including Uganda, aiming at different contexts and different targets, such as youth in vocational skills training centers operating in several refugee settlements and future primary teachers in Primary Teachers' Colleges (PTCs). The training is designed to teach how to use a digital device and mainly to increase employability skills with the proactive use of the Internet. In Gulu, our trainees were from the Uganda Pioneers Association Gulu Branch and after 3 intense days of lessons, they received their MDC certificate.

DCT young graduate

Millet beer
While in Gulu, around sunset time (which in Uganda is all year long at about 7 pm since we are on the equator line) I decided to take a walk around the hotel where we stayed, a narrow street full of huts (typical Ugandan dwellings). The children were playing football with a ball made of rolled rags tied by a lace. The women were preparing dinner. The men were sitting in a circle and chatting. I greeted them with a gesture and they invited me to sit with them. They were all holding very long straws and drinking something from a ceramic bowl placed in the center of the circle. They invited me to taste what they were drinking and I took a sip remembering that I had read on a website that in Uganda it is rude to refuse. That's how I discovered the bitter taste of millet beer. While in Senegal the guest must always leave something on the offered plate because otherwise, the host might think she has not cooked enough, in Uganda it seems rude to leave or refuse offered food. This made me think of Southern Italy: if my grandmother invited you for lunch you should finish all the food she prepared for you, otherwise, she could think that you do not like it and she will be offended.

A map of Ugandan Ethnic Groups
 in a Primary Teachers' Colleges
As I sat with these elders, I listened to their conversation and I asked why they were speaking in English. One of them kindly explained to me that they speak English because even if they know each other for a long time, they all come from different tribes and English is the common language. In Uganda, although the most spoken language is Luganda, from the Buganda tribe present in the Central Region, there are more than 70 spoken languages. English has been the official language since independence in 1962 as a consequence of the introduction of English in schools during the colonial period. As Uganda is part of the East African Community, a regional intergovernmental organization founded in 1999, Swahili has been embraced as mandatory into the Ugandan school curriculum as a symbol of unity within the EA Community. Nevertheless, I have not yet met anyone who speaks Swahili because here it is associated with the oppressive military regime as it was the military language of the British and German colonial armies. For the moment, since it is very important in Uganda to greet people, I have learned to ask "how are you?" in Luganda (Oli Otya?), in Acholi (Itye nining?) and in Lugbara (Awa'di fo?).

M&E qualitative data collection 
And by asking " Awa'di fo?" began the first interview to gather qualitative data about DCT at the Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement in Arua District, where we were last week and where my first month of deployment ended. Opened in 1980, Rhino refugee camp currently hosts 133,532 refugees (UNHCR, 2022) and was expanded with the outbreak of the Civil War in the South Sudanese to host the sudden influx of refugees. When it comes to refugees, the spotlight is often on the refugees going to Europe, and migration to neighboring countries is often overlooked. Uganda is home to the largest number of refugees in Africa, mainly from Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Rwanda, and Burundi, and its refugee law is among the most progressive in the world (World Bank Group, 2016). Indeed, refugees and asylum seekers are entitled to work and they have freedom of movement; they can access Ugandan health and education services; they are either self-settled or live in organized village-style settlements, allocated on government-owned gazetted land (World Bank Group, 2016). Obviously, this system is subject to different challenges (language barriers, discrimination, low level of employability, and remote services uneasy to access for lack of public transport) but still, it is a system that has worked over the years.

Sipi Falls
Many other things happened during this first month. We visited Sipi Falls and Amuno organization, a youth-led local organization that protects and takes care of the needs of children and youth in the East of Uganda; I celebrated my birthday at the Ziwa Rhino sanctuary, which since 2005 has been working to reintroduce southern white rhinos into their natural habitat; we did a safari at Murchison Falls National Park; I met climbing lovers at Uganda's first and only climbing gym. But now I am tired of writing and probably you of reading and lunch is waiting (avocado and tomato as every day since one avocado costs about 25 cents)! But if you want to read more about Uganda and the experience of us EUAVs in Uganda, I invite you to read the blogs of my colleagues and friends Felicia, Clarisse, Ambra, and Sophie.

We will catch up next month! Tula bagane (See you in Luganda)!

Students in Amuno Library

1. Duranti, G., & Di Prata, O. 2009. Everything is about Time: Does it Have the Same Meaning All Over the World?. Project Management Institute. 

2. World Bank Group. 2016. An Assessment of Uganda's Progressive Approach to Refugee Management. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO

3. UNHCR, 2022. Uganda - Refugee Statistics May 2022 - Rhino. Infographic 

Friday, 2 September 2022

Hungry eyes and bumpy roads

As I'm drafting this post from the back of the car taking us to a school in Lodonga, West Nile, I am reminded that the Boda stage we just passed is where you can pick a motorbike to take you to South Sudan or Democratic Republic of the Congo. In fact the border to DRC is only about 10 km away, and Mont Kei is the only natural barrier to South Sudan, a few more miles ahead. 

From a Mosque, some small children wearing their Hijabs and Kufis say hi, smiling with curiosity to the strangers hiding inside the vehicle. Few minutes on the bumpy road ahead, and a big Cathedral built in Roman style opens the way to the school.


As my Google Maps timeline reminds me of the 2550 km completed in 105 hours worth of travel this month, with a mix of cars, busses, motorbikes, ferries and my own feet, I realise that I am still yet to see so much of this wonderful country. Maybe this was the reason I decided to extend my contract with EUAV, or maybe it was my gut speaking for me, whispering that I am not ready to return to Europe yet. After the initial difficult months I lived, I feel I've just recently started enjoying my life here to the fullest, seeing the famous cultural adjustment curve spiking.

As a typical Italian would do, I organised most of my holiday in August. Whether for leisure, visiting the animals of Murchison Falls national park, and sharing the garden with a hippo ruminating next to an our tent, or for personal enrichment, organising a visit to Amuno , a grassroot organisation supporting children by offering a local library, funded and managed by a good friend of mine near Mbale, in the East of the country. The common denomination of these trips was scenery-filled hikes, powerful waterfalls, nights full of stars, children's curious smiles and bus' subculture. 

Workwise I must say this has been one of the most exciting months, too. From the final training in Gulu, where our learners from Uganda Pioneers Association (UPA) Graduated in The Mondo Digital Competencies Training, to mentoring the newly graduated Trainers from UPA in Kampala with their first training sessions to new community members, to the insightful and moving interviews I conducted with the young refugees of Windle international in collecting their testimonies to, finally,  the visit to the Rhino Refugee Settlement in West Nile to collect data and talk to the beneficiaries. 

A glimpse into life in the Refugee Settlement:

Despite Uganda having one of the best refugee reception systems of the continent, life in the camp is harsh. 

One of the learners interviewed at Ocea vocational skills training centre in Rhino Camp, explained that refugees are given 30sq meters of land to build a house, but nowhere to grow crops. Finding a job, also, is extremely hard due to language barriers, episodes of discrimination (both from host community and of tribalism nature), and a general lack of employment opportunities, especially amongst the youth, that characterizes the region. 

The long journey to Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement was a worthy opportunity to gather qualitative data, successful stories from the learners, as well as observe the committed ICT instructor of the centre carrying out the Digital Competencies Training.

Mondo Digital Competencies Training (DCT)  is part of the offer at the Vocational skills training centre managed by our partners Norwegian Refugee Council. The trades (or courses) offered there, such as hairdressing, tailoring, solar panels installation, mechanics, and ICT are accessible to both Refugees and host community members, respectively to 70% and 30%, in line with governmental policy, to increase employability skills for those whose opportunities are limited not only due to their status and language barriers but also to a low employment rates amongst the youth.

What did the DCT bring to these youth? 

Learning to use digital tools, many reported, was a way to become more emancipated and fulfill educational goals that would be otherwise inaccessible. Some are starting a business, and learning, for example, to market their products helps them reach potential customers, as Martin, a young refugee from South Sudan who spent most of his life in the settlement and who sells crafted sandals, shared with me. Some are becoming able to explore their creativity with video editing which enhances their digital visibility and boosts their hopes for the future, like Winny, an 18 years old Ugandan young woman revealed.

Despite the bumpy roads (in all senses) of living in rural and remote areas, we grasped a sense of hope and captured their powerful and resilient smiles which are a fuel to our organisation to continue the work and the valuable partnership in one of the largest refugee settlements in Uganda. 

I'm making my way back to Kampala as I'm finalising this blog posts on my phone. From the window of the car, I steal with my eyes the now familiar images of women walking in line, wearing their beautiful kitenge dresses whilst carrying basket on their heads or babies wrapped on their back; the children carrying other children; men, women and children digging the field, the goats jumping on the rocks on the side of the road; the clothes drying in the sun, on the grass roof's huts concealed in a deep vegetation. I'm feeding my eyes with these images and I'm learning that they are hungry for more.

Thursday, 1 September 2022

Exploring the Pearl of Africa

In August, Kikooba Infant & Primary School was on holiday so I decided to spend my time working on backlogs and traveling with my EUAV colleagues around Uganda to discover the Pearl of Africa. 

Sipi falls

Sipi falls is located in the East of Uganda approximately 277km from Kampala in the Kapchorwa district. These falls are found on the foothills of Mountain Elgon (the highest national mountain). The name Sipi has derived from the word sep, the name of a wild banana-like indigenous plant that grows along the banks of the Sipi River. The pronunciation of sep was distorted by the British explorers.

The Sipi falls are comprised of 3 waterfalls each flowing from a different altitude. The highest fall drops from a height of 100m. You can visit all of them in a few hours' hike. The paths are a bit slippery and muddy but the effort is rewarded by the amazing atmosphere and natural scenarios!

For all coffee lovers, the coffee tour is one of the best experiences you could do in this region. You will learn the process from the plant till your coffee is in your cup. You will see the coffee plants, and how the beans are being prepared, dried, roasted, and finally prepared for you to enjoy your cup of coffee.

Amuno: Education and Community outreach

During my stay at Villa Mamu, I had the opportunity to meet Anthony (Tony) Okiria, the founder and team leader of Amuno. Luckily, as his project is based in Kongunga Town, near Sipi falls, we visited his library and the community during our trip. 

In these months, Tony is hardly working to create a free access fully-stocked community library, with Ugandan national curriculum textbooks for all levels of education and English story books. The premises already offer a space where children from the community can come to learn by using books and playing table tennis to make reading more attractive and enjoyable. 

In the future, Amuno would like to provide computers connected to the internet to enhance the learners´ access to knowledge, and indoor games and provide more storybooks in both English and the local language (Ateso).  

Moreover, each year Amuno´s social workers identify the most vulnerable children who cannot afford to pay school fees to be beneficiaries of the school support program, helping them with fees and scholastic material. 

For more info, to contact the organization and donations:

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

Ziwa is the only place where you will be able to see wild rhinos in Uganda. The Rhino re-introduction project was a project of Rhino Fund Uganda and Uganda Wildlife Authority. Presently the sanctuary is home to thirty-three southern white rhinos. We enjoyed the on-foot rhino trekking with a ranger who guided us through the bush explaining to us more about rhino habits.

Murchinson Falls National park

Murchinson Falls National Park is Uganda´s second most popular safari park. It is located in north-western Uganda and it is managed by the Uganda wildlife authority. 

The National Park was an amazing place to take a game drive (safari) in the early morning. We boarded our safari vehicle and we went to explore the natural beauty and amazing wildlife. We passed through elephants, giraffes, buffalos, waterbucks, hartebeest, warthogs, chimpanzees, and little monkeys. Unfortunately, we couldn´t see lions if just only from far while they were hunting. An excuse to go on another safari as soon as possible!

We did a boat safari on the Victoria or White Nile towards the Murchison falls. We could enjoy the view of colorful birds, water animals like hippos and crocodiles, and amazing natural scenery. The park is home to the largest population of Nile crocodiles. 

Murchison falls is the world´s strongest waterfall. We could feel the power and the violence of the water compress to narrow rocks. This creates a permanent rainbow over the battlefield and causes a continuous roar. One of the mindfulness places I have ever seen. 

Bahá’í House of Worship

Bahá’í community compared the world of humanity to the human body. Within this organism, millions of cells, diverse in form and function, play their part in maintaining a healthy system. The principle that governs the functioning of the body is cooperation. Acceptance of the oneness of humanity demands that prejudice - whether racial, religious, or gender-related - must be totally eliminated.

The first Bahá’í House of Worship on the African continent, completed in 1961, is situated in Kampala and has become a well-known landmark of the capital. Bahá’í Houses of Worship are spiritual gathering places open to all peoples.

The holiday is finishing and my last month in Uganda is starting! With a bit of melancholy, I´m approaching my last month in the village of Kikooba but still determined to implement all the planned activities for Kikooba Infant & Primary School´s teachers.